Universal

REVIEW: Arkells – High Noon (2014)

ARKELLS – High Noon (2014 Universal)

Thank rock and roll for new bands like the Arkells!  I’ve been happily enjoying their singles for years.  I really fell in love when I saw the Hamilton band open the 2017 NHL Awards.  A starstruck Max Kerman (vocals) gleefully fist-bumped with Wayne Gretzky.  I knew I had to get one of their albums.  On vinyl!  I chose their 2014 release High Noon to be my first Arkells, for its unforgettable single “Leather Jacket”.

Kerman managing to keep his shit together on national TV with The Great One

High Noon was a sound choice.  “Leather Jacket” has been an earworm for a long time.  High Noon also has another sterling single, “Come to Light”.  Its basis is similar to Bowie’s “Modern Love”.  While there is no mistaking the year, the Arkells put a slick 80s slant on these songs.  Whether it’s in the beats or the keyboards, there is a love of 1980s rock here on High Noon.

There are numerous highlights and few forgettable ones.  Album opener “Fake Money” has a strong piano riff, a classic U2 vibe, and an anti-corporate attitude.  One of the catchiest, more summer-y fun tracks is ironically “Cynical Bastards”.  Good time upbeat rock with solid beats to shake your butt to!  “11:11” is primed for dancing .  Everyone will pick out their own favourites, because there aren’t any poor songs on this wax.  Check out “Crawling Through the Window” for a slower tune with all the integrity intact, or the strange Disco hop of “Systematic”.

A band can make or break based on the lead singer.  I really like the expressive and sincere singing style of Max Kerman.  He stands out from first listen.  It’s hard to say exactly what makes him stand out, but he certainly does.  A band to watch.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Def Leppard – Hysteria (2017 5 CD/2DVD 30th anniversary edition)

This is the ultimate review of Hysteria. Some material is recycled from:

This review covers everything you need to know about the ultimate version of Hysteria.

DEF LEPPARD – Hysteria (2017 Universal 5 CD/2DVD 30th anniversary edition)

25 million copies sold.  Seven hit singles.  A two year world tour.  All done under the most difficult circumstances.  Def Leppard’s Hysteria is one of rock’s greatest triumphs.

Although the album was released in 1987, the Hysteria story really begins on December 31, 1984.  Drummer Rick Allen lost control of his speeding Corvette, and was thrown from the vehicle due to improper use of seatbelts.  His left arm was severed.  Doctors attempted to re-attach the arm, but infection set in and it could not be saved.  It would be understandable if people thought Rick’s career in music was finished.  While many artists from Django Reinhardt to Tony Iommi had dealt with physical disabilities, nobody had ever seen a one-armed rock drummer before.

Undaunted, Allen began working on a way around his disability.  The band never considered a future without him, and were disappointed by “ambulance chasers” looking for a gig.  Rick Allen wasn’t about to allow himself to go down or dwell in his misery.  With an electronic kit triggered by his feet and right hand, Allen eventually regained his ability to not only play drums, but play live.  This resulted in an inevitable stylistic change.  Allen’s drumming style became more staggered, with emphasis on bigger, spaced out snare hits.  His electronic kit was no crutch:  singer Joe Elliott said he could play it “and make it really sound terrible”.

The next album was supposed to be a big deal.  It was Phil Collen’s first Def Leppard LP as a writer, and Rick’s chance to prove he wasn’t out.  Unfortunately, when the band started to record, producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange was not available.  Instead the band began to work with Jim Steinman (Meat Loaf), but were underwhelmed by the results they were getting.  Leppard’s ambition was not just to make another album, but to make something seriously good, memorable and special.  Something to surpass Pyromania.  Steinman was let go and the band started working with Nigel Green with no progress being made.

The band were taking so long, and suffered so many setbacks and delays, that eventually Mutt Lange was available again, and together they finally began work on the new Def Leppard LP.  Co-writing every song with the band, Mutt provided the focus and intense discipline.  The stated goal, following the template of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, was to make an album with 12 potential singles.

The long story of this difficult album (false starts, illnesses, studio problems) is only overshadowed by its success.  But it took a while to get there.

Disc One:  The original album (Hysteria)

The first single “Women” did well enough, but failed to kickstart the mega album sales needed to recoup the losses.  “Women” was an odd choice for a first single: a slow robotic rock track, with a killer comic book-based music video.  It introduced the new Def Leppard groove:  A simple one or two note bass line, layers upon layers of vocals and chiming guitars, but none of the full-speed-ahead New Wave of British Heavy Metal that Leppard were founded on.  The year was 1987 and Def Leppard were on the cutting edge.

 

To get those chiming bell-like chords, Mutt had them recorded one note at a time!  This is very apparent on “Animal”, the second single.  It too was mildly successful, but not enough to push the album into orbit.  Listen to the guitar chords and you will hear something that sounds more like chimes than strings.  This is down to the incredibly detailed and overdubbed recordings.  “Animal” was a stellar pop rock track, and a fine example of what Hysteria sounds like.

Refusing to give up, a third single was dropped:  the ballad title track “Hysteria” and possibly the finest song on the album.  The fact that these singles were not the hits the band hoped for at the time has not diminished them.  Today they are all concert classics, radio staples, and beloved fan favourites.  Leppard even re-recorded the song in 2013 for release on iTunes.  (While the re-recorded version is impressive, it is impossible to exactly recreate the magic on this album.)

Finally, the success that the band and record label were waiting for happened.  The track was “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and the North American version of its music video showcased the band’s stunning live show.  Def Leppard were playing “in the round” to rave reviews.  “Pour Some Sugar”, a retro glam rock tune with a contemporary sound, was a summer smash hit.  It was cool, it was catchy, and Joe’s verses almost sounded like rap, although really they had more in common with Marc Bolan of T-Rex.

On a roll, nothing would stop Def Leppard now.  Though the goal was an album with 12 potential singles, Hysteria eventually yielded seven.  Most rock bands were lucky to squeeze three out of a hit album.  Though the album was now becoming a bonafide hit, some critics and fans lamented the death of the original Def Leppard.  Others embraced their pop success.  The raw edgy guitars were gone and replaced by bright, precise parts working as a whole, in a gigantic pop rock juggernaut.  Joe wasn’t screaming out every line, but actually singing now.  It hardly matters.  With the success of Hysteria, Def Leppard had embarked on a whole new journey and have rarely looked back to their origins.

The singles carried on, through the rest of 1988 and into 1989.  “Love Bites” was fifth up, which originated as a country ballad that Mutt wrote and the band Leppardized into something different.  It was a hit for the autumn of ’88, a slightly dark ballad for the fall.  The victorious glam rock of “Armageddon It” was next, simple and pleasant enough for radio and video, and another huge hit.  These were songs that had pep, but wouldn’t frighten mom and dad.

The seventh and final single was a surprise choice:  “Rocket”.  On album, “Rocket” was 6:37 long, and featured a long experimental middle section.  The ambitious mid-section featured loads of NASA samples and sound effects, all backed by the African inspired drum loops of Rick Allen.  The song was based a drum beat by Burundi Black, brought in by Joe Elliott, played by Rick Allen and looped.  Eventually lyrics were added, inspired by the glitter groups of the 70’s that Leppard grew up with.  Lange also used backwards vocals for some of the hooks.  The line that opens the track and repeats through the song is the chorus from “Gods of War”, backwards:  “Raw fo sdog eht rof gnithgif er’ew.”  It was a sharp track to be used as a single, but that unforgettable beat was beyond question.

Hysteria had two more tracks as good as the singles, although they were not.  “Gods of War” became a fan favourite, and easily could have been an eighth single.  Dark in tone but more epic in quality, it has since become heavily associated with late guitarist Steven Maynard Clark.  He was responsible for much of its guitar thunder.  The final track that could have worked as a single was the album closer, the ballady “Love and Affection”.  As good as any of the actual singles, “Love and Affection” had its own charm and hit potential.  It’s long been one of my album favourites, just under “Hysteria” and “Gods of War”.

Rounding out the LP are “Run Riot” and “Don’t Shoot Shotgun”, two rock tracks that would have been highlights on a lesser album.  Neither are clearly as brilliant as the hits, but both solidly get the job done with guitar thrills.  Finally there is “Excitable”, the only song I’ve never particularly dug.  It strikes me as gimmicky and very 80’s, much like “Social Disease” by Bon Jovi.  Too reliant on sound effects and gimmicks.  So out of 12 tracks, only one was really a dud.  That’s not bad by any measure.

Hysteria rode the charts, recouped its costs, and then some.  The tour in the round was legendary and resulted in a live video In the Round: In Your Face.  Def Leppard were, for a short while anyway, the biggest rock band in the world.

Disc Two & Three:  B-Sides and Remixes

As discussed in greater detail in Record Store Tales Part 4:  A Word About B-Sides, this album and its singles really clicked with the collector in me.  Def Leppard prepared a number of B-sides for Hysteria, and perhaps because these were not produced with Mutt, they all have a harder edge.  The four key must-have B-sides were all exclusive studio tracks, and the first four on the second CD of this set.

“Tear It Down” was a speedy but basic rock track considered good enough to include on the next album, and so it was.  The B-side version remains its superior, because it is tougher than the one on Adrenalize.  The most impressive B-side was probably “I Wanna Be Your Hero”.  This B-side from the “Animal” EP has the Hysteria vibe and sound.  It easily could have replaced “Excitable” as an LP track, but if it had perhaps Hysteria wouldn’t have sounded as diverse.  Dig that false ending!   Next, “Ride into the Sun” is a remake of a track from the original 1979 Def Leppard EP.  The 1987 update is heavier and far better, a truly impressive upgrade.  Finally “Ring of Fire” was even heavier than that, clearly too heavy for what Hysteria became.

The second disc features all the radio edits done for Hysteria‘s singles.  Even to collectors, this is padding.  Only one radio edit seems to hit the nostalgic notes, which is “Women” with a fade out ending.  Incidentally, the only single from Hysteria that didn’t get a single edit was “Animal”, already short at 4:04.

Most important is the cover version of  “Release Me”.  This track was initially released on the “Armageddon It” picture disc single, but not credited to Def Leppard.  Much like their later acoustic B-sides credited to the Acoustic Hippies from Hell, “Release Me” is credited to “Stumpus Maximus and the Good Ol’ Boys”.  Engelbert Humperdinck is responsible for the most famous version of “Release Me”, but Stumpus Maximus is definitely responsible for the most twisted.  Featuring Def Leppard’s roadie Malvin Mortimer on lead vocals and the rest of the band goofing around on each others’ instruments, “Release Me” is a hoot.  Mortimer breaks all known sound barriers with his screaming (and burping) of the lyrics.  I was absolutely confused beyond belief upon hearing this for the first time, since I didn’t catch on to this actually being Def Leppard in disguise.  They absolutely fooled me; I thought whoever they were, Stumpus Maximus and the Good Ol’ Boys sucked!  A hilarious novelty.

Disc two concludes with an 18 minute radio special from the BBC, going through Hysteria‘s songs with Joe Elliott.   The third disc consists of remixes and live B-sides from the period.  Extended versions of “Animal”, “Pour Some Sugar”, “Armageddon It”, “Rocket” and even “Excitable” all come from 12” singles.  A welcome inclusion is the single edit of “Rocket”, the short version of the “lunar mix” .  This was excluded from the previous 2 CD deluxe of Hysteria.  The video mix of “Pour Some Sugar” is still missing, but that track is on so many albums including the five-million-selling Vault, so we’re not going to worry about it.  These extended remixes are, not surprisingly, pretty much for the fans and collectors.

The live B-sides feature the fascinating “Rock of Ages” medley. It seamlessly captures key riffs of classic rock tunes:  “Not Fade Away” (Buddy Holly), “My Generation” (The Who), “Radar Love” (Golden Earring), “Come Together” (The Beatles) and “Whole Lotta Love” (Zeppelin).  This is all done to the tempo and style of “Rock of Ages”, and quite well, too.  Then it’s a lively cut of “Love and Affection”, which was also utilised as the album’s Japanese bonus track.  It’s very rare to hear this song done live, and definitely rare to hear a great vintage version done live.  Finally there’s a so-so “Billy’s Got a Gun” (same gig).  One live B-side is missing, though you can understand why, it is still annoying.  “Elected”, the live Alice Cooper cover (same gig again), was on the 2 CD deluxe edition.  It was recorded during this period but released in 1993 on the “Heaven Is” single.  Because it’s not from a Hysteria single, it was dropped from this box set.  Too bad.

Disc Four & Five:  In the Round In Your Face (Live)

When  I was a young fella, massively into Def Leppard, In the Round In Your Face (taped in Denver over two nights) was the very first live home video I ever bought.  To finally, finally have a proper audio edition…there are no words to express the happiness!  It always should have been a double live album release and not just a video, but hindsight is always 20/20.

The legendary set consists of hits from Hysteria, Pyromania, and “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” from High N’ Dry.  From the unforgettable Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” intro, to the final song “Photograph”, it’s non-stop fun.  Though today there is plenty of live Leppard available, nothing tops vintage Joe Elliott screaming like a kid.  Aside from a flawless track selection, highlights of the concert include Phil Collen’s new acoustic intro to “Heartbreak”.  “Gods of War” is heavy and powerful.  “Too Late For Love” gives me chills.  Of the newer songs, “Women” is notable for being included as one of the B-sides for “Rocket”.  Instead of putting it on the previous disc, it was left intact here, with the concert it came from.  Of course, we mustn’t forget what really makes this concert special.  Steven Maynard Clark didn’t survive to do another tour with Def Leppard, and this would be the last live recording with him on it.

DVD Disc One:  Visual Hysteria

This disc is a new compilation of video clips, the first four of which are previously unreleased.  Leppard have three Hysteria-related appearances on Top of the Pops:  “Animal”, “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, “and “Rocket”.  These lip-synced television appearances are almost comical as people scream for a band miming a hit song.  The showmanship of Steve Clark, in his billowy white pants, is sorely missed.  What a rock star!  On “Animal”, frontman Joe Elliott appears to have pulled a Derek Smalls and stuffed his trousers.  Note Phil’s ahead-of-the-times Metallica shirt during “Sugar”.  Unfortunately “Rocket” fades out early.  Though these videos are old and washed-out, it’s a hoot to have them.  Leppard lip-sync again on a familiar video of “Sugar” from the Brit awards.

Music videos were a huge part of the marketing for Hysteria, and a key component to its success.  Each one is here, including both the UK and US versions of “Sugar”.  These videos bring back such a nostalgic glow.  I remember seeing “Women” for the first time, thinking how amazing it was that Def Leppard were back.  I also thought about how brave Rick Allen was.  He didn’t try to hide his injury.  The slow-mo effect of “Hysteria” brings back a lot of memories, as does “Love Bites”.  It was a huge hit video in Canada, during a very cool autumn.

DVD Disc Two:  Classic Albums

Of all the Classic Albums series DVDs, this was one of my most frequently played.  It is now reissued as part of the 30th anniversary box set, a perfect place for it.  In case you didn’t know, Classic Albums is a fantastic series of documentaries that go back to the original master tapes.  Hysteria is one of many albums they have covered.

Hysteria is such a rich, textured, thick album with a long story so this DVD is an obvious slam dunk. The only thing it lacks is Mutt Lange’s knowledge (a notorious recluse). Otherwise, the band go back to the beginning with the early demos. “Animal” was sparse but remarkably recognizable while still in demo form, down to the false ending. “Rocket” is deconstructed so you can hear the drum orchestra that was laid down, while Joe Elliott talks about how it was inspired. The backing vocals of “Gods of War” are laid out bare, virtually every single word sung and recorded separately! That’s the kind of album this is.

Along with that, Joe, Phil and Sav also perform bits live in the studio. This helps to illustrate the individual parts further.  It is revealed to “Love Bites” was brought to the band by Lange as a country song; you can hear the roots on this DVD.  Rick Allen is there to discuss his accident, an obviously emotional moment. Steve Clark is discussed too, and current Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell is on hand to talk about the numerous guitar parts that he inherited and has to play live.

JEFF RICHMy favourite feature of this DVD is actually in the bonus material.  It’s the chapter that covers the first shows that Leppard played after Rick Allen’s accident. Originally, Jeff Rich from Status Quo was tapped to play a second drum kit alongside Allen on stage, just in case Allen got tired, slipped out of time, or couldn’t finish the show. There were so many variables that nobody knew what would happen during what really amounted to Allen’s comeback shows. Well, for one show in the middle of nowhere, Jeff Rich was late.  If he had turned up on time, maybe Rick Allen would never have found out that he could play a full Def Leppard show on his own.  Allen did the show with no help on the drums, and he nailed it.  Rich told Allen that his work was done; Allen did not need any more help.  And that was it!

The books and packaging

This iteration of Hysteria comes with four individual books and a poster suitable for framing.  The Big Book of Hysteria is the main event.  Adorned with pictures and full credits, this tells the story of the album from the band’s point of view.  There were details in this book that even I wasn’t previously aware of.   Why did Rick Savage play guitar on “Hysteria”?  What was the original planned 10 track running order of the album?  You’ll find that in this book.  There is also a track by track rundown of the album by the band.

Next:   Ross Halfin’s Portraits of Hysteria.  This photo book has many of the classic pictures you will remember from this period.  I had several of these as posters on my wall.  Halfin was responsible for all of them!

A lovely miniature reproduction of the 1988 UK tour book is complete with cut-outs and even more Halfin photos.  Tour books are large affairs, and this being a small reproduction, the text is hard to read.  Especially for us old enough to have an original North American tour program in the house.

Lastly, and perhaps most lovely, is the Discography book.  Inside are photos and release details of every obscure version ever released of Hysteria, all its singles and more.  It’s exhaustive and assembled with consultation from a fan expert.

All seven discs, books and poster are packed in a nice looking, compact box.  Each disc has its own gatefold sleeve with yet more memorable pictures inside.  They nest inside a cardboard tray with the Union Jack printed on it.  Perfect!

Conclusion

I’ve had Hysteria five times now.  The first was a gift for Christmas of ’87.  I upgraded to CD when I was working at the Record Store.  I bought the 2006 2 CD deluxe edition, the DVD of Classic Albums, and Hysteria on 180 gram vinyl.  I hope this 30th anniversary box set is the last time I have to do so.  I can’t imagine what could entice me to buy it again.  A 5.1 surround sound mix?  Please, rock gods, don’t do that.

I love Hysteria.  But let’s hope this is the last of it.

5/5 stars

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Crazy Nights (1987)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 29 

 – Crazy Nights (1987 Polygram, 1997 Mercury remaster)

Here’s a little song for everybody out there.

It’s a song that is a recurring theme for Kiss in the 1980s.  It’s a down and out song: Asylum failed to live up to commercial hopes and the band only  toured in North America.  Paul Stanley was still firmly in control of Kiss.  His partner Gene Simmons was now a record label mogul.  He signed Loz Netto and House of Lords.  Meanwhile, Paul observed bands like Bon Jovi who once opened for them, now eclipsing their success.

Kiss chose producer Ron Nevison for their next album tentatively titled Who Dares Wins.  Nevison had recently produced big hits for Heart and Ozzy Osbourne, and Kiss aimed to follow along.  The new music was the most commercial they’d written since 1980’s Unmasked.  Big name songwriters participated on all but two songs.  Much to the chagrin of Kiss fans, keyboards were brought on heavily for the sessions.  Paul had been writing on keyboards for the first time.  (In concert, keys were played offstage by Gary Corbett.)

The album was renamed Crazy Nights, preceded by first single and video, “Crazy Crazy Nights”. From the first “Woo!”, it’s far too bright and shiny. It’s one of those “gosh, this is so inspiring!” tunes that you’re embarrassed to like.  “They try to tell us that we don’t belong, but that’s alright, we’re millions strong.”  The awkward change to a higher key at the end is annoying as Paul hits absurd notes.  Bruce Kulick’s guitar playing is exemplary, a showcase of true technical mastery, but not the kind of playing associated with classic Kiss.

A pretty stinky song called “I’ll Fight Hell to Hold You” is a mish-mash of mismatched parts and very high notes.  It inspired my neighbor George to say, “If a song this poor made the album, can you imagine the songs that didn’t?”  Gene wrote about 25 songs for Crazy Nights.  Shudder.  “Bang Bang You” is pretty weak too, keeping things in “park” rather than “drive”.  It’s also the second time Paul referrs to a previous Kiss song in the lyrics.  This time Paul states that he’s gonna “shoot you down with my Love Gun, baby.”  On “Crazy Crazy Nights”, Paul stated that we “Love It Loud”.  Reminding fans of better songs from more nostalgic times?

Bruce Kulick gets a smoking guitar into on Gene’s first track, “No No No”.  Every trick in the book is thrown down in a mere 45 seconds.  The track is a sudden fast thrash into heavier territory.  However it’s track 4, and it’s Gene’s first song?  That’s problem numero uno.  The second issue is Gene’s newfound smooth singing style.  The demonic growl is gone, and Gene adopted a clean voice that does not really sound much like Gene Simmons.  He continues that style on “Hell Or High Water”, a pretty good tune in fact.

Things go a ridiculous extreme on “My Way”, another one of Paul’s “inspirational” tunes.  “I’m gonna talk like I talk, walk like I walk, My Way.”  Sinatra this is not.  What sinks it are the stupidly high notes that Paul hits.  Paul Stanley was simply one of the great voices in rock, bar none.  He could do things that few people this side of Freddie Mercury could do.  But just because you have a car that can go 200 mph doesn’t mean you have to keep it floored.  Save it for when it counts.

Side two commences with another atrocity, “When Your Walls Come Down”, which never would have been in consideration for a better album.  Consider that Eric Carr wrote a number of ideas for this album that weren’t used, like “Dial L For Love”.  That unfinished song had a Van Hagar vibe that was on trend, and potentially better than crap like “When Your Walls Come Down”.

The first Kiss ballad since “I Still Love You” on Creatures of the Night (1982) is “Reason to Live”.  A weak ballad is of little interest, and the music video surprised some by having Bruce Kulick on stage playing damn keyboards!  Paul and his buddy Desmond Child are responsible for a song we’d rather forget.

Simmons returns with a great number called “Good Girl Gone Bad”.  Cliche title aside, this understated dusky prowler has melodic qualities in common with some of Gene’s better material on Unmasked.  Another decent song, Paul’s “Turn On the Night” is a hokey but good enough anthem for the 80s.  It’s co-written by Diane Warren, who later scored it big with a little song called “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing“.  It will be too bright for some fans, but it’s a tasty pill if you can swallow it.  Paul has always had a way with a chorus.  Bruce’s solo is another standout.  “Turn On the Night” is actually pretty good.  The music video seemed to be a continuation from “Reason to Live”.  The blonde woman that torched Paul’s car seems to be now sabotaging a Kiss concert on a roof top?  I’m very confused.

Crazy Nights ends with a fart, a pretty low-grade Simmons tune named “Thief in the Night”.  On a better produced album like Creatures, a song like this could have smoked the competition.  On a plastic, thin album like Crazy Nights, it completely misses the gut.

It’s probably unfair to lay the blame for Crazy Nights at the feet of Paul Stanley and Ron Nevison.  If Gene wasn’t out trying to discover the next big band, and was actually focused on Kiss, could they have gotten it together?  The fact is that Kiss are at their best when running full steam.  It’s always been a partnership between Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons as the primary writers.  Crazy Nights represents a point at which these partners were working like broken cogs.

It’s a damn shame.

Today’s rating:

1.75/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

0/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  For this Meat’s slice, we include an actual commentary, as Uncle Meat listened to the album in real time.

Uncle Meat:
This first shit tune…sounds like a wrestling entrance.

Mike LeBain:
Totally.
It’s of the time.

UM:
It’s shit.

ML:
You couldn’t even give this 0 steaks.

UM:
It’s Warrant…It’s Poison…It’s shit.

ML:
You’d have to go to rotten ground beef for this.
And that’s…fuck what’s his name…

UM:
And that key change is ridiculous!!!!!!!!!!!! So awful.

ML
…Ron Nevison produced.

UM:
This is shit.

ML:
Enjoy my friend.
It gets pretty silly later.
Wait until you hear My Way.
Mark my words.
Reemember: MY WAY.
I’ll walk like I walk, talk like I talk, My Way…

UM:
If I end up taking a walk and killing a 48 year old Chinese woman…It’s on you my friend.

ML:
I realize that.
It’s right here in permanent Internet records.

UM:
Well…first absolute shit tune is over…and it’s rated dung.

ML:
Second song is worse.

UM:
The shit storm is over Randy…
Oh no it’s not Mr Lahey…because here comes song 2.
I’m using that in my review of this album…

ML:
HAHAHAHAHAH

UM:
I’m so glad I shaved my head two days ago…or I would be lighting my hair on fire.
Bang Bang You…just about to start.
I see it’s a Desmond Child vehicle.
Grrrr
This is so garbage…hot steaming garbage.
I dont know if I can do this whole album.

ML:
HAHAHAHAHA Bang Bang You…
You have to finish it now.

UM:
I hate this.

ML:
You can tell this is the period when Gene wasn’t around anymore.

UM:
My bum is embarrassed for my ears right now.

ML:
You think this is bad, I invite you to play Hot in the Shade.

UM:
OK…fuck man…it’s only song 4 of this one…hold it now.

ML:
I’ll shoot you down with my love gun baby.

UM:
I’m not guaranteeing I’m getting through this one.

ML:
You can’t walk away now.

UM:
And…I might just review the first 4 songs…and say… ok…I’m done…don’t care about the rest…goodbye.
Goodbye.
That would make a point.

ML
Nope you HAVE to play MY WAY.
I need you to hear track 6.

UM:
Who is singing No No No?
Kulick?

ML:
Gene.

UM:
Doesn’t sound like him.

ML:
He doesn’t sound like him on any of the album.

UM:
Oh…ok…he sounds different.

ML:
Nevison forced him to drop his normal voice.

UM:
Passable.

ML:
Barely.

UM:
Kinda reminds me of Skyscraper by David Lee Roth.

ML:
Same era.
Very plastic and keyboardy and samply on the drums.

UM:
Better than the first 3.
Eric carr’s only writing credit.
Does Kulick or Carr sing any tunes?

ML:
Nope just Gene or Paul.
Eric was promised a song and didn’t get one which made him very bitter.
Apparently he stopped speaking to Paul around the next album.

UM:
I mean on any album.

ML
Eric sings two.
He sings Beth on Smashes and Thrashes.
And Little Caesar on Hot in the Shade.
Bruce sings one.
I Walk Alone on Carnival of Souls.

UM:
Ok…that’s weird.

ML:
Funny thing there:
Both guys sang their first original Kiss songs on their LAST Kiss albums.
In Fact Bruce’s song is the last song on his last Kiss album.

UM:
Neat.

ML:
In the current band Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer both have two lead vocals each.

UM:
Hell or High Water is…boring…not offensive like earlier.
Sounds like Tesla.

ML:
But you can hear his voice is smooth not rough.

UM:
I just wrote down one line now in the first minute of My Way.
“Bon Jovi can fuck right the fuck off already”.
Oh man this smells.
It’s like actual runny sharts are oozing throught this speaker.
OK… Reason to Live is on a new shelf of shit. Holy Fuck. Of course…Desmond Fucking Child. What a shit hat.
It sounds like St. Elmos Fire meets Michael Bolton working out in a shit gym.
OK…I’m done it’s off…I can’t do anymore…no fucking way.
Done.

 


Crazy Nights is the last album reissued in the Mercury CD remasters series.  No album more recent than this has been remastered and reissued.

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/04

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Asylum (1985)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 28 

 – Asylum (1985 Polygram, 1997 Mercury remaster)

When we last met our heroes, they were a fractured bunch with differing priorities.  Gene Simmons cut his hair and went to Hollywood.  Paul Stanley was steering the Kiss ship singlehandedly.  They were down a guitar player (Mark St. John) but were fortunate to find his replacement in Bruce Kulick.  Not only was Bruce an old acquaintance (his brother Bob played on a number of Kiss tracks) but he was also just what the band needed.  He added a shot of stability and wrote good material.  He has three writing credits on his first album Asylum, and that was just the beginning.

Paul and Gene produced Asylum, in a similar way to how Animalize was recorded.  As had become routine, Gene wasn’t around to record some of the bass parts in Paul’s songs.  Jean Beauvoir returned to fill in, while Paul also played some bass.  Without Gene fully committed, Asylum was the second Kiss album in a row hobbled by his reduced participation.  Animalize was a huge selling album for Kiss having gone platinum.  Asylum sounds like Paul wanted to duplicate that record.

Eric Carr opens the album with a thunderously memorable drum intro.  Carr didn’t have to try to impress anybody; his drumming brought Kiss to a higher level musically.  His double bass work on “King of the Mountain” would make Lars poo his pants.  For Carr fans, “King of the Mountain” surely must be considered one of his brightest moments.  Fortunately the song also kicks ass.  As one of the Kulick co-writes, the new guitarist impresses immediately.  His soloing style was so much smoother than his predecessor Mark St. John.  He had similar speed and ability but better composition when it comes to solos.  Meanwhile, Paul takes this high octane speed rocker and turns it into a rallying call of encouragement.

I’m gonna climb the mountain,
I’m gonna hit the top,
I wanna go where nobody’s ever been,
I’m never gonna stop.

Who needs Shakespeare when you just need a good shake?  “King of the Mountain” is fuel injection for the bloodstream.

Over to Gene.  “Any Way You Slice It” kicks ass.  He had a habit of barking out his lyrics in the 80s, and “Any Way You Slice It” is very bark-y.  The riff really catches air and takes off.  Back to Paul, and a big single.  “Who Wants to Be Lonely” has a chug and a plaintive chorus.  Paul’s vocal abilities were at a peak, but it sounds like Gene was nowhere near the studio when it was recorded.

There are a lot of contributions from outside songwriters on Asylum, from people such as Desmond Child and Jean Beauvoir.  One of the few songs without them is “Trial By Fire” by Gene and Bruce.  Once again the rhythm is a chug, but this simple little rocker is appealing.  There’s nothing wrong with the chorus, but it has never been played live.  Nor has Paul’s “I’m Alive” which just takes the speed thing to an absurd level for this band.  Kiss isn’t a speed metal band and “I’m Alive” isn’t a memorable song.  “I’m hot enough to give you chills.”  I’ll take your word for it, Paul!

Flip the album and you’ll hear “Love’s a Deadly Weapon”, which both Gene and Paul have a credit on.  This is noteworthy, because the pair hadn’t written anything together on Animalize and only one track on Lick it Up and The Elder each.  That’s all the co-writing credits they had together after the infamous Kiss solo albums.  However, “Love’s a Deadly Weapon” isn’t really a co-write.  It’s one of Gene’s songs, with a title and some words taken from a Paul Stanley demo called “Deadly Weapons”.  Again, Kiss takes the speed level to the absurd.  This ironically renders the song powerless.

Fortunately Paul’s big single “Tears are Falling” brings back the quality.  It was one of the few songs from this era to continue to be played live.  It was kept in the set on the Revenge tour, and had been brought back periodically by the current lineup of the band, even appearing on their last album Kiss Rocks Vegas.  That’s because it has a chorus that goes on for days and days.  Bruce’s guitar solo is one his most memorable, which doesn’t hurt either.

Gene’s “Secretly Cruel” shows off his sleazy side, on a likeable but forgettable album track.  He wrote this one solo, just as Paul did for “Tears are Falling”.  And it’s sleazy from there in.  “Radar for Love” is a Paul/Desmond composition with a groove and a chorus that nails it.

And then it’s “Uh! All Night”.  Yes, “Uh! All Night” is the name of a song.

I’ll confess that when I first heard “Uh! All Night” in 1985, I didn’t know what “Uh!” meant.  I figured it meant “partying” or something.  And there was a period when I really liked this song, but that was over 30 years ago and it sure has worn out its welcome.

Kiss went on tour again, never leaving home territory except for one date in Toronto.  This was a step backwards for the so-called “Hottest Band in the World”.  Asylum wasn’t the hit album that Animalize was.  Money was becoming a problem.  These are problems they aimed to solve next time.

The irony is, although Asylum wasn’t as big as Animalize, song for song it’s probably a better album.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars

To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/02

REVIEW: Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – Live in Birmingham 2016

RITCHIE BLACKMORE’S RAINBOW – Live in Birmingham 2016 (2017 Universal)

Ronnie Romero has one of the toughest jobs in rock.  As the singer in Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, he must fill the shoes of many past vocal champions:  Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet, Joe Lynn Turner, as well as Ian Gillan and David Coverdale from Deep Purple.  The really difficult thing about it is the main guy he’s compared to:  Dio.  Fortunately, this Ronnie is no Dio clone.

Blackmore’s newest incarnation of Rainbow has been doing light touring and recording new material.  From their 2016 show in Birmingham comes this live album, a welcome addition to the Rainbow catalogue.  20 years since their last tour with White, Rainbow has an all-new lineup including Jens Johansson, the top rated keyboard player who made his fame with Yngwie Malmsteen and Dio himself.  Also on board are members of Ritchie’s acoustic Renaissance project Blackmore’s Night:  David Keith and Bob Nouveau on drums and bass.  Backing them are singers Lady Lynn and Candice Night from the same project.

What everything really has to come down to is the lead vocalist.  Ronnie Romero cut his teeth with Chilean band Lords of Black, a power metal group with some minor Blackmore influences.  Ritchie obviously has a good ear.  One wouldn’t immediately think of Romero has the next singer for Rainbow, but the fit is good and snug.  Ronnie can sing the old Dio material and is an instantly likeable frontman.  He has the power and range available to do Dio material, but his rasp is actually reminiscent of another Rainbow singer, Graham Bonnet.  On this album, Romero does the hit single “Since You Been Gone”, originally performed with Graham.  It’s the most authentic version of the song since the original.

As online forums have discussed and debated, Rainbow have a very Purple-heavy set.  Nine songs are Purple classics, making up the majority, including an odd choice in “Child in Time”.  Have Rainbow ever performed that song before?  Perhaps it was put back in the set simply because Purple haven’t played it in 20 years either. “Burn” is no problem for Ronnie Romero though.  He’s very comfortable in David Coverdale’s range.

Could more Rainbow songs have been squeezed in at the expense of a Purple oldie like “Woman From Tokyo” or “Highway Star”?  Sure.  But it’s Ritchie’s ball game.  He wrote those songs, and if he wants to open his set with “Highway Star”, he sure can.  “Soldier of Fortune” originally from Stormbringer is a surprise and all the more successful for it.  Whitesnake will sometimes play it live, but Purple do not, and Rainbow may never have before.  That leaves seven Rainbow songs, mostly Dio era.  “Stargazer”, “Catch the Rainbow” and “Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll” are indispensable.

The only real issue with the recording lies with Ritchie.  The guitar should be louder.  It’s far too quiet.  You cannot hear enough of what he is doing.  Comparing to another live album, Black Masquerade recorded in 1995, the guitar was in your face and seemed more aggressive.  It seems strange that a guitar-dominated band like Rainbow would have the instrument toned down on the live album, but many listeners have said the same thing:  “Needs more guitar”.

All the new musicians are more than capable, and after hearing these songs done a million times, it’s nice to hear some new twists on solos and fills.  Romero’s native tongue is Spanish, and there are times he slips up on some old Deep Purple lyrics (particularly “Perfect Strangers”).  This never matters, because nobody screws up Deep Purple lyrics more than Ian Gillan himself!  The main thing is Romero has the right voice.  It’s unbelievable that he can sing a long set like this with such power throughout, seemingly with ease.

Long live rock ‘n’ roll, long live Rainbow, and long live Ronnie Romero.  It’s easy to be skeptical, but most doubters will be silenced by the newest incarnation of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.  This is a pleasant surprise and one of Rainbow’s most enjoyable live albums due to the charismatic Romero.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Rich Robinson – Got to Get Better in a Little While (10″ EP)

RICH ROBINSON – Got to Get Better in a Little While (2016 Universal 10″ clear single for Record Store Day)

This really pretty record (a single or an EP, who cares?) was found on the Taranna 2016 expedition with Mr. Books.  It’s apparently a Record Store Day exclusive from April 2016, although I had no problem getting this one for $16.99 in October.  This my first purchase of anything by Rich without his brother Chris.  Knowing the Black Crowes, I was fairly certain it wouldn’t suck.  I was still surprise to see on the back, an ad for not one not two not three but FOUR Rich Robinson “Expanded Editions” on CD and LP!  Who knew?  Not this guy!

“Got to Get Better in a Little While” is a Derek and the Dominoes cover, apparently one that Crowes used to do regularly, as does Rich.  You have to hear this if you like bluesy rock that produces pure smoke from sheer musical chemistry.  Yes, Clapton is God and the original can’t be touched, but a real jackass could easily make this song sound like shit.  Rich does the opposite, and it sounds as part of his musical being.  There’s some deep bass that just cuts through, and this goes on for eight and a half minutes of jam session heaven.  Just bop along.

The second side has two Rich originals.  Greasy late night blues is on the menu.  “Look Through My Window” sets a scene of steamy Tennessee dusk.  Brilliant stuff for any fan of slippery slidey guitars.  Then an acoustic/electric tune called “Falling Away” closes on a first light of a quiet dawn.  Great tunes, both, making up a tidy little 16 minute EP.  Or single.  Whatever!

The vinyl itself is clear and thick.  The package doesn’t say anything about clear vinyl, but you almost expect clear or coloured when you buy these limited editions.  It looks lovely spinning with its green label.  Great little EP, reasonably priced for the collector and fan.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Cinderella – Gold (2006)

CINDERELLA – Gold (2006 Universal)

When a band like Cinderella, who only have four studio albums, get a double CD “best of” compilation, it had better be good.  Fortunately Cinderella’s edition of the Gold series offers value for the money and unreleased live tracks to boot.

All the Cinderella albums are represented, including the criminally underrated Still Climbing album from 1994.  Cinderella did not “go grunge” as so many others did.  As “Bad Attitude Shuffle” indicates, they simply doubled down on their own brand of bluesy hard rock with bite.  From the same album, “Free Wheelin'” and “Talk is Cheap” both show fearless commitment to the genre.  Then the ballad “Through the Rain” also from Still Climbing provides the balance.  Cinderella have successfully employed ballads since day one, because they happen to be quite good at them.

Among their greatest ballads: “Don’t Know What You Got (‘Til It’s Gone)”, “Heartbreak Station”, “Coming Home”, “Wind of Change”, and “Nobody’s Fool”.  Each one of these tracks is worthy to be on this compilation.  Some of their slower material either bordered on blues, or were just flat-out blues songs.  Some are here:  “Long Cold Winter”, “Dead Man’s Road”, and “Sick For the Cure”.  Then there is the soulful “Shelter Me” that is harder to categorize.  But of course Cinderella are best known as a hard rock band, and most of the material falls into that vast category.  Many of these tunes are truly awesome.  “Shake Me” was first to gain attention, with some noting similarities to AC/DC.  “Hot and Bothered”, originally from the Wayne’s World soundtrack, combines the blues and rock in a tasty confection.  “Second Wind” from Long Cold Winter kicks ass, and “Gypsy Road” is here too, albeit in live form.

The live tracks are all credited to a Japanese promo CD called Last Train to Heartbreak Station, which appears to be a completely different thing from their Japanese EP called Live Train to Heartbreak Station.  Rarities are always welcome on a compilation, but one has to wish that the great single “Gypsy Road” was also included in its studio version.  It’s a good enough tune that it wouldn’t be a crime to have two versions on the same CD.

Because of their feminine name and some really bad wardrobe choices, Cinderella was written off by many people without hearing any of their rocking material.  While that is a real shame, Cinderella hasn’t made a new album in 23 years so this would be a good one-stop-shop to get much of their best material.  Augment this baby with a copy of their classic Long Cold Winter CD and you will have enough Cinderella to have a good representation of their best stuff.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Dio – The Last in Line (deluxe edition)

DIO – The Last in Line (originally 1984, 2010 Universal deluxe edition)

Ronnie James Dio used to consider the second albums he did as inferior to the first ones.  Second Rainbow wasn’t as good as the first; same with the second Sabbath, according to Ronnie.  Is that also true for The Last in Line compared to the legendary Holy Diver?

Comparing the two is much like splitting hairs.  The two albums are so close in style and quality that it really doesn’t even matter.

A better opener than “We Rock” is hard to find.  The blitz of drums and riff was custom made for bangin’ on the stage.  It’s unusual to hear a song where the drums are a major hook, but Vinny Appice has a way of doing just that.  He gives you the urge to air-drum every time he throws down a fill.

Dio had an interesting pattern for his albums in the early days, up to Dream Evil (1987).  The albums always began with something fast.  In the song two position:  always the title track!  (The title track of each album always had a few lines of lyrics printed in the album sleeve too!) And so it is with “The Last in Line”.  The soft and ballad-y opening lures one into that “safe place”…before Dio lets it loose.  One of his best and most memorable music videos went with “The Last in Line”, absolutely one of the legendary man’s most notable songs. Its reputation is well earned, as all the pieces are in the right and you never get tired of hearing it.

We’ll know for the first time, if we’re evil or divine, we’re the last in line!

With the first two tracks being so legendary to Dio fandom, it’s easy to understand how the next batch often get lost in the shuffle.  “Breathless” lacks for nothing.  Vivian Campbell’s solo spot is blazing stuff, and the song is memorable enough for head banging.  Accelerating into “I Speed at Night”, hooks are sacrificed for tempo.  It’s quintessential 80s heavy metal when speed was such an important thing.  Not a bad tune, but one with only a single purpose — banging thine head.

“One Night in the City” takes the time to allow the hooks to percolate through.  Vinny and bassist Jimmy Bain lock into a mid-paced groove while Ronnie lays down one of his typically emotive melodies.  Though it simmers on a back burner, “One Night in the City” is hot just the same.  “Evil Eyes” is also a high quality tune, and if it’s familiar that might be because an earlier version was a B-side, included on the Holy Diver deluxe edition.  Naturally, the album version is more polished, but as for which is better, that’s up to the listener.  Then there is “Mystery”, arguably Dio’s most “pop” single.  Not such a bad thing, after all Ronnie James Dio also did right by “Love is All” from the Butterfly Ball.

We are lightning, we are flame, and we burn at the touch of a spark.

“Eat Your Heart Out” is the only stumble, but it’s soon paid back with “Egypt (The Chains are On)”, a Dio epic in true metal fashion.  Who doesn’t love a good plodding metal epic about Egyptian legends?  It’s a second or third tier metal motif!  Ronnie brings his own metal melodrama to the fore.

The Last in Line is already a great album, certainly up to the quality of Holy Diver with equally memorable material.  This carries over to the bonus CD included in the deluxe edition.  Four single B-sides from the era are included.  They are live versions of “Eat Your Heart Out”, with “Don’t Talk to Strangers”, “Holy Diver” and “Rainbow in the Dark” (all originally from Holy Diver).  The only two B-sides missing are “Stand Up and Shout” and “Straight Through the Heart” live at Donington 1983, from “The Last in Line” 12″ single.  These tracks however can be found on the 2010 CD release, At Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987 

Finally we have Dio’s entire set from the 1984 Pink Pop festival.  Naturally there is some overlap with the previous live tracks:  “Holy Diver”, “Rainbow in the Dark” and “Don’t Talk to Strangers”.  This is offset by a smattering of Rainbow and Black Sabbath classics:  “Stargazer”, “Man on the Silver Mountain” and “Heaven and Hell”.  The audio is quite good and Jimmy Bain’s bass has a nice full thump to it.  The Last in Line is one deluxe you’ll want to add to your collection

4.5/5 stars

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Music From the Elder (1981)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 20:  

  Music From the Elder (1981 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remaster, 2014 Universal vinyl)

Kiss had gone as far as they could go in the pop direction that they travelled on Unmasked.  The band’s stature was in jeopardy.  The image was outweighing the music and they suffered their first member defection.  As discussed in chapter 18, Peter Criss was out, but he was replaced by an energetic young drummer henceforth known as Eric Carr.  His abilities put sounds in reach that the band weren’t able to do with Peter Criss.  The smartest move, albeit the safest, would be a return to the band’s hard rocking roots.  Songs were written and demoed, including “Don’t Run” (Frehley/Anton Fig), “Every Little Bit of My Heart” (Stanley), “Deadly Weapons” (Stanley/Simmons), “Nowhere to Run” (Stanley), “Feel Like Heaven” (Simmons) and an instrumental called “Kix Are For Kids”.

Based on what we know of these songs today, Kiss easily could have turned them into a classic sounding album.  Whether it be ego, fear, ambition or sheer hubris, Kiss scrapped the demos and aimed instead to shoot in another direction.  That is, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and manager Bill Aucoin changed direction at the protest of Ace Frehley.  Eric Carr had no say, being an employee.  Playing on the strengths of Kiss’ larger than life comic book image, Gene concocted a fantasy story that they wanted to turn into a concept album.  If that was successful, they could spin the album off into sequels, a tour and a movie.  And who else would be better to produce a concept album than Bob Ezrin?

The addition of Ezrin was another grievance for Ace Frehley.  It was Bob Ezrin who replaced him on 1976’s Destroyer album with Dick Wagner on “Sweet Pain”.

So a fractured Kiss went into separate studios to record the concept album.  Ace stayed in his new home studio in Connecticut and recorded his guitar parts there, painstakingly taking his time to get just the right crunch.  Much to his chagrin, Bob Ezrin used only bits and pieces of what he was sent.  Bob was dealing with a severe drug problem, and had isolated himself so that the only lines of communication regarding the album were Kiss and Bill Aucoin.  Nobody outside of the circle heard a note until they were done.  There was talk of a double album, but it made sense to do it one at a time…just in case it didn’t sell.  Hence the title, Music From the Elder.  Like Star Wars, this was meant to be only a part of the whole story.

A word about the running order.  When Music From the Elder was first released in North America, the story didn’t make much sense.  It was supposed to begin with the instrumental “fanfare” and then the acoustic strumming of “Just a Boy”.  Instead the record company shuffled the song order to start with something heavier:  “The Oath”.  But the concept never made any sense.  In 1997, Mercury released the Kiss remastered series, and restored the original intended track order.  They even restored a snippet of “lost” music, a Gregorian chant bit between the first two tracks.  The original Japanese pressing came with the tracks in the right order, but was missing one overall (“Escape From the Island”).  The Japanese version also came with a neat full cover obi with pictures of the band — something fans missed out on with the normal release.  (When fans did finally see pictures of the 1981 Kiss, they were taken aback by the modern hair and image.)  The current 2014 LP edition on 180 gram vinyl also has the restored track order.

The album begins quietly (and pretentiously) with strings and woodwinds of “fanfare“, credited to Ezrin and Stanley, and based on the melody of second track “Just a Boy”.  “Who steers the ship through the stormy seas?  If hope is lost then so are we.  While some eyes search for one to guide us, some are staring at me.”  The Elder is the tale of a reluctant hero known only as “the boy”.  He is the archetypal “chosen one” selected by the mysterious and powerful Council of the Elder.  “When the Earth was young, they were already old,” reads the liner notes.  He must face the evil Blackwell, but he can’t believe there is anything special about him.

Although “Just a Boy” is a deep cut loved only by those with Kiss infecting their blood, you can hear its charm.  It sounds nothing at all like Kiss, and its soft acoustics don’t even sound like a rock band.  Paul sings the chorus in an insane falsetto, which he also utilizes elsewhere on the album.  The powerful guitar solo is all his, and one struggles to hear Ace Frehley on the track at all.  “Just a Boy” is a good song, with structure and dynamics and thoughtful composition.  It isn’t something that could be performed well on stage, and the production leaves a muddy haze over the lead vocals.  It’s hard to hear 50% of Paul’s lyrics.  Fortunately, the 2014 vinyl reissue comes with something the 1997 CD did not:  a lyric sheet.  With that in hand, you can follow the story.

In fact, it must be recommended to listen to The Elder on vinyl at least once to fully appreciate the album.  Something about sitting there with a gatefold jacket open and following a story on a record sleeve works as a sort of time machine.  It’s truly an experience that you cannot feel with CD alone, and the only way to do that with the songs in the proper order is with the 2014 vinyl reissue.

Kiss have thrown obscure covers on their albums before, but it’s strange to see such a thing on a concept album.  “Odyssey” by Tony Powers fit the story at this moment, although nothing could sound less like Kiss.  It is a fully orchestrated song and it doesn’t even have Eric Carr on it.  Ezrin didn’t think he was getting the right vibe so he brought in Allan Schwartzberg who also played on Gene’s solo album.  “Odyssey” is as overblown and pretentious as a song can get, as if Kiss suddenly became the Beatles and this was their “Hey Jude” moment.  This many soft, un-Kiss like songs right off the bat is a good way to throw listeners, so the record label ended up moving it to side two.  Paul Stanley has disowned the song, but what Paul failed to appreciate is that though campy, “Odyssey” is also incredibly fun.  It has no place in the Kiss canon, but there it is, and it’s hard to forget that delightfully pompous orchestra.

The first appearance of the mighty demon Gene Simmons is “Only You”, a choppy and spare guitar number that is the first rock moment on the album.  It’s an attempt to be progressive and rock, and it more or less works.  It’s simple and blocky, but it shifts into a few different sections including a reprise of the “Just a Boy” theme.  Paul also guests on a verse as the boy character, questioning his destiny:  “I can’t believe this is true, why do I listen to you?  And if I am all that you say, why am I still so afraid?”  The Elder respond, “In every age, in every time, a hero is born as if by a grand design.”  In an interesting twist, Doro Pesche later covered this song with completely different lyrics.

According to their self-written Kisstory (volume 1) tome, Eric Carr expressed some doubt as to the band’s current direction.  In response Gene challenged him to come up with something of his own, so Eric provided the beginnings of “Under the Rose”, on which he also plays acoustic guitar.  “Under the Rose” became his first writing credit on a Kiss album, with Gene Simmons.  “Under the Rose” is soft/heavy, soft/heavy, and features an ominous choir on the chorus.  But through this, Ace Frehley’s presence cannot be felt.  Such an important part of the Kiss sound before, now relegated to the sidelines.  Ace had only one lead vocal on The Elder, a song based on a riff written by Anton Fig.  Their “Don’t Run” demo was re-written by Gene Simmons and Lou Reed, yes Lou Reed, to become “Dark Light”.  In context of the story, “Dark Light” warns of coming evil.  Ace’s presence is welcome, providing some much needed rock foundation and a brilliant guitar solo.  Unfortunately “Dark Light” is probably his weakest in his Kiss career, a disappointing followup to prior classics like “Talk to Me”, “Save Your Love” and “Shock Me”.

Lou Reed co-wrote the lyrics to the single “A World Without Heroes”, which originated as a Paul Stanley ballad called “Every Little Bit of My Heart”.  Reed came up with phrases like “a world without heroes is like a world without sun.”  These clicked with Gene and Bob Ezrin who completed the song.  Paul plays lead guitar on a somber single that, again, sounds little like Kiss.  Kiss had done ballads before and even had hits with them, but nothing like “A World Without Heroes”, one of their darkest songs.  Strangely, it ended up being covered by Cher.

At this point of the story, the boy agrees to fulfill his destiny and become the hero.  This happens on the most heavy metal song on the album, “The Oath”.  This is the track that opened the original released running order of the album, completely destroying any comprehensible plot.  You can still understand why they did this.  Its metal riff and impressive drums are the intro that the album really needed.  Paul sings in falsetto again:  “Now inside the fire of the ancient burns, a boy goes in and suddenly a man returns.”  The song was performed live once in 1982 on a TV show called Fridays.  Although the performance seemed sloppy and awkward, Ace burned up a couple wild guitar solos.  If this is the kind of material that Bob Ezrin cut from the album, it was a big mistake.

So the boy has taken the oath, and it’s time to meet the evil one. Gene and Lou Reed wrote “Mr. Blackwell” about the character, who doesn’t seem to be too worried about the discovery of the chosen one. “Here’s to the kid, a real man among men,” mocks Blackwell in the lyrics. (The song also contains the phrase “rotten to the core”, which was a song title Gene had been batting around since the mid-70s.) Musically, “Blackwell” is spare and revolves around the words. A bumping and thumping bass is the main feature of a song that is more words than music.

At the exact moment that you need Ace Frehley to come back and save the album, he does with the instrumental “Escape from the Island”. Co-written with Eric Carr and Bob Ezrin, “Island” delivers the thrills and action-packed guitar action. Because it’s an instrumental it’s hard to determine exactly how it fits the story, except it sounds like an action scene. Perhaps Blackwell launched a preemptive strike on the boy, who escaped. Ace’s guitar attacks the surroundings, chopping them down with fatally loud riffs.

The final song (on all versions of the album) is the single “I”. Gene and Paul split lead vocals on this Simmons/Ezrin song, but once again Eric Carr was secretly replaced on the recording by Allan Schwartzberg. The story is wrapped up with the boy now proclaiming he believes in himself and is ready to take on the evil. The end of the album, yes, but clearly intended as only the first chapter of something bigger. Gene spoke of a heavier sequel album called War of the Gods which would depict the conflict. Instead, “I” serves as the ending, and at least it’s a kicker. Like vintage Kiss, the riff and chorus meld into one fist of rock. The lyrics are suitably uplifting. “I believe in something more than you can understand, yes I believe in me!” That’s pure Kiss in a nutshell right there.

A short hidden track following “I” provides the only dialogue on the album (over a reprise of “fanfare“), although more was recorded. The hidden coda reaffirms that the Elder have found the right kid. “He’s got the light in his eyes, and the look of a champion. A real champion!”

There are two ways to listen to The Elder.  If you want the whole enchilada and would like to hear the story in its correct order, pick up a remastered edition of the album either on CD or vinyl.  If you’d like a more even listening experience that is the same as that of fans who dropped the needle on the album in 1981, then go for the original CD or vinyl release.  But if you’re a Kiss maniac, you simply must do it both ways.

Music From the Elder is a flawed album, mostly marred by sonic muddiness.  It has an uncharacteristic quantity of ballads and un-Kiss-like songs, so fans stayed away in droves.  What they missed was a decent concept album for Kiss, a band that never should have attempted a concept album in the first place.  Because the album failed to sell, Kiss’ ambitious tour plans were scrapped and the band stayed home.  Aside from the three songs played on the Fridays TV show (“The Oath”, “A World Without Heroes” and “I”), Kiss never played any songs from The Elder live until their 1995 acoustic Konvention tour.  The lack of a tour meant Kiss’ momentum was all but halted.  The new drummer that fans barely knew only ever played one show in North America!

A bigger problem was brewing, and that was a bitter and disenfranchised Ace Frehley.  Once again, fans were not aware of the problems brewing in Kiss, but The Elder was the last album Kiss Ace played on until 1998.  It was a repeat of the Peter Criss situation only two years prior.

If Kiss had stuck to their plan of recording a hard rock album again, perhaps things would have played out completely differently.  We’ll have a chance to check out some of the songs they were working on in upcoming chapters for they would not stay buried long.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

2/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  Some of my favorite records ever have been “concept” records.  Operation: Mindcrime, Misplaced Childhood, 2112, Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From a Memory, El Corazon; to name just a few of many.  When it comes to The Elder, my one sentence review of this album would simply be:  Some bands should not make concept albums.  Bob Ezrin came straight from The Wall to record this mess.  I read somewhere recently, and it may even have been in the comments here perhaps, but Ace Frehley hates this album.  Which completely makes sense considering he had been on such a roll until it halted with this record.  It’s kind of a hard album to break down individually, but some quick notes:

“The Oath” – Very chuggy heavy song.  I think the [domestic] album starts off with the best song.  Song begins as if it’s Manowar meets Kiss.  More reminiscent of Creatures of the Night than this record.  Perhaps some bombastic Tenacious D-like moments.

“Just A Boy” – Starts off like early ELP and first reaction is that Paul Stanley could never come close to singing this song again.  Solid song.  Overall I get a Wishbone Ash feel. 

“Dark Light” – As mentioned earlier, Ace’s roll slows down with a dull track.  I do like the guitar solo over the bongos though.

“Only You” – An even duller track that starts with Gene singing, and morphs into Stanley singing with some stupid effect on his voice.  Right producer, wrong band.   (That could be another one sentence review of The Elder)

“Under the Rose” – This clunker doesn’t flow for me.  Gregorian Monks?  Bah….

“A World Without Heroes” – I thought it was lame then and it’s only slightly less lame to me now.  Could have used more Lou Reed.

“Mr. Blackwell” – Funky novel track.  Dancy and quirky but one of the strongest songs on The Elder for me.  One of the only songs for me that has a great hook to it.  Unmasked this album is not.

“Escape From the Island” – Good solid rocker.  Great drumming.  This would have been a great live jammer, but I’m doubting they have ever played this live.   LeBrain?  [Nope]

“Odyssey” – WTF?  Was this Paul’s tryout demo  for Phantom of the Opera?  This song alone is an unforgivable sin, and just another reason why this album should have been aborted in the womb.

Favorite Tracks”  “The Oath”, “Mr. Blackwell”, “Escape From the Island”

Forgettable Tracks:  Take your pick….


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/26

REVIEW: Blackjack – Worlds Apart (1980)

scan_20161003BLACKJACK – Worlds Apart (1980 Polydor, Universal Japan reissue)

Blackjack (Bruce Kulick, Jimmy Haslip, Sandy Gennero and some unknown guy named Michael Bolton) made a grand total of two albums before splitting.  Michael went on to a fairly successful solo career (two Grammy awards), and a few years later Bruce joined Kiss.  Neither guy is really sweating the fact that Blackjack had no impact.  The albums are long out of print, except in Japan.

Their second album, unfortunately, lacks the memorable hooks of the first one.  Starting off with a cover is rarely a good sign.  The Supremes’ “My World is Empty Without You” is as ham-fisted as you can imagine, with heavy handed bass forced into what is usually a fine soul song.  Bolton oversings.  It’s a misstep from the get-go, and it’s not a good sign that this is one of the better tracks on the album which is otherwise mostly written by Bolton and Kulick.

“Love is Hard to Find” works well as an early-80’s Bon Jovi blueprint.  The ballad “Stay” certainly sounds like Michael Bolton, or more accurately, it sounds like Michael covering an over-dramatic Rod Stewart ballad.  “Airwaves” passes as a rock song, but it certainly is a weak one even compared to similar bands from the era such as Journey.  Ironically what it needs is Michael to let loose with those pipes, the way he does on the ballads.  Even a title like “Maybe It’s the Power of Love” lacks the kind of vocal power you want (though Bruce does get a tasty little solo with a dual harmony part).

The hardest rocker of the album is the side two opener, “Welcome to the World”, which bizarrely opens with an actual recorded baby birth.  That aside, it’s a pretty solid rocker with more of those Kulick harmony licks.  Strangely, Kulick had nothing to do with its writing.  This works into the very 80’s sounding “Breakaway” with its programmed keyboards and soft-rockisms, and among the worst tracks on the album.  “Really Wanna Know” is almost as bad, so cheesy you can smell it coming by the opening synths.  “Sooner or Later” works better, again perhaps a precursor to early Bon Jovi.  Good track, and Michael lets the voice rip like you want to hear it.  And then the album craps its own pants with the closer, “She Wants You Back”, lighter than light rock.  There’s a lick that borrows from Steve Miller’s “Swingtown”, but the Miller song is better.

The second Blackjack album has no surprises, no progression and little impact  Even though the second LP is a soundalike to the first, it’s weak.  And so they split.  Bruce Kulick’s brief foray into “moustache rock” ended and he was on to other things.  Blackjack and Worlds Apart are interesting mostly to Kiss fans and collectors.  As for Bolton fans, I know he still has many, but I think only these two fellas would buy Worlds Apart (they celebrate the guy’s entire catalogue).

2/5 stars

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